On December 12th, 1997, nineteen-year-old Brian Deneke (Dave Davis) was killed after being run over by a Cadillac driven by seventeen-year-old Dustin Camp (Luke Shelton, playing the real life perpetrator under the pseudonym “Cody Cates”, as the Bomb City production feared legal reprisal from Camp's family). The disgusting act of vehicular homicide came as the climax to a rumble that had broken out between Brian's punk crew – who squatted at a nearby building – and an Amarillo high school football squad, after the students had severely beaten King (Henry Knotts), one of Deneke's more unruly companions, and trashed the collective's car. Bloody and broken, Brian died in the arms of his brother Jason (Dominic Ryan Gabriel), and following a lengthy trial, Dustin (excuse me, "Cody") was convicted of voluntary manslaughter, fined $10,000 and sentenced to probation. The fine was eventually dropped.
Yet while Bomb City – freshman feature filmmaker Jameson Brooks' fictional recounting of the days leading up to Brian's death – is certainly centered around this horrific hate crime, that's only part of what his intensely personal picture's actually about. The subsequent trial acts as a Sorkin-esque framing device, instantly alerting us to the fact that something terrible is eventually going to happen, and once Brian has a run-in with "Cody" at a local diner, we know exactly which groups are going to participate in this inevitable atrocity. The jocks – clad in letter jackets and looking for another bonfire where pretty girls and beer await – sneer at the punks, who in turn are simply hoping to throw another malt liquor-soaked show, where they can rage in the pit and possibly kiss a cherubic angel like Rome (Lorelei Linklater). The only things separating the two testosterone-fueled clans are some lifestyle choices, as they essentially yearn for the same physical release.
Brooks is engaging the same ponderings that many outsiders have been turning over in their heads for as long as human beings popularized conformity: if you bounce to the beat of your own drummer, how can you channel your own rebellious aggressions and not be hassled by society for doing so? Through some rather slick edits (courtesy of Brooks' ability to wear many hats on set), we see these two cultures intertwined - one enabled through rich parents to beat each other in a brightly lit arena while wearing shoulder pads, while the other are poor, drunk, chased and maced by cops after getting caught tagging a dingy, dark alley with anarchy signs. Though the director definitely stumbles into didactic territory (as it's clear whose side he's on in this fiasco), the thoughtful intention behind this sermon is certainly clear: the punk is punished for raging against the machine, while the jock is rewarded for flexing their muscles inside of its cogs.
For all of the rough edges readily apparent in the performances from these various unknowns – recalling the charismatic flatness of the squatter punks in Penelope Spheeris' equally tragic Suburbia – Brooks composes some hauntingly stunning images that tell this true story better than any amount of melodramatic court recreations could. Two Mohawks kiss beneath a swirl of exploding bottle rockets. Brian playfully slap-fights with his father (Darryl Cox) in their driveway. Jason's silhouette clings to the phone as he tries to explain to his parents that their youngest son is now dead. A gaggle of white football players gyrate to trap rap around a gigantic fire in a field. The details of a rumble are recalled in hyper slow-motion. The budget on Bomb City was obviously low, but that didn't stop Brooks and his impressively skilled cinematographer (Jake Wilganowski - shooting only his second feature) from crafting an elementally beautiful motion picture, filled with moments that will well your eyes with tears even when removed from the context of the crime they're detailing.
Equally moving is the score, composed by Books' co-writer Sheldon Chick and Sheldon’s brother Cody Chick. While the movie may lean on it a little too hard – especially during its extended epilogue – the rising and falling orchestral synth drones add a layer of emotional portentousness that's impossible to shake. Every single member of this team was obviously passionately invested in the story they were telling, and poured all of their collective talents into creating this often overwhelming tapestry. While the scenes of these punks’ crusty existences are slathered with lo-fi needle drops (from little known seven-inch mavericks), the Chicks almost seem to use their original score as a sort of soulful monologue, clueing us into the emotions that are hidden beneath black leather and dissociative behavior.
In the end, what we’re forced to consider is a discordant melody of teenagers pursuing their own version of an American Dream. For Brian, it was hitching across the country to New York City and back, hanging with his brother, friends, and potentially finding the girl of his dreams, all while listening to the loudest music possible and scraping to pay the landlord any semblance of rent. The other half is striving to achieve the sporting and collegiate goals their parents and community laid out of for them, climbing the rungs of a system that judges those who refuse to operate inside of it. While Bomb City certainly damns "Cody" for the actions taken on that fateful, bloody night – not to mention his attorney (Glenn Morshower) for shaming the victims' for their "lifestyle" as a means of defending his client – it’s also made pretty clear that this misfortune could've easily been avoided, had both sides simply acknowledged and accepted the fact that they were both searching for the same thing under this gigantic Texas sky.
Bomb City is available now on Blu-ray, DVD and VOD from Gravitas Ventures.